Weekly News Recap (3-9 July 2023)

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Netherlands: New Centre for Prosecuting the Crime of Aggression Opens in The Hague with International Support

On 3 July 2023, a new centre for prosecuting crime of aggression opened in the Hague with the support of the European Union, the United States, and the International Criminal Court. The centre will focus on prosecuting the crime of aggression committed in Ukraine. The aim of the International Centre for the Prosecution of the Crime of Aggression (ICPCA) is to bring accountability to individuals that committed the crime of aggression. A group of experts began the task of gathering evidence and building case strategies to bring those accused of the crime of aggression to justice. The ICPCA will have a joint investigation team with prosecuting teams in Ukraine, Lituania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland, Slovakia, and Romania. The teams will work together to gather evidence for possible cases against Russian military and political leaders involved and to start building a case so national and international courts can take the appropriate actions against the perpetrators of the Russia-Ukraine war. 


ECtHR: Court Ruled Russia Violated Privacy and Freedom of Expression in Facial Recognition Case  

On 4 July 2023, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) ruled that the Russian government violated the rights to privacy and freedom of expression of the applicant. The applicant had participated in a solo demonstration in the Moscow underground, holding a cardboard figure of a political activist and a banner criticising the government’s handling of peaceful protests. The police used facial recognition technology to identify the applicant and subsequently arrested him. The court declared that the use of facial recognition technology and the collection of evidence from social media and CCTV cameras infringed upon the applicant’s right to privacy. It was unjustified to process the applicant’s personal biometric data by using highly intrusive facial recognition technology in administrative offence proceedings in order to identify, locate and arrest him. Thus, it was held that there had been a violation of Article 8 of the Convention, which protects the right to respect for private life, and a violation of Article 10 of the Convention, which safeguards the freedom of expression. The court ordered the Russian government to pay the applicant €9 800 in compensation for non-pecuniary damages and €6 400 for costs and expenses.  


United Kingdom: UK Special Forces at the Centre of Investigation into Afghanistan War Crimes

On 5 July 2023, the Ministry of Defence stated that the United Kingdom Special Forces are the centre of the investigation into Afghanistan war crimes. This marks a significant shift from their previous attempts to prevent any mention of the Special Forces’ role in these crimes. The ministry’s decision comes after facing pressure from bereaved families, as well as media organizations. The inquiry focuses on the reported unlawful killings carried out by the SAS over several years. The United Kingdom’s Ministry still seeks to grant anonymity to Special Forces personnel involved in these operations and hold closed hearings for witness testimonies. At the opening of the hearings at the Royal Courts of Justice in London, Justice Haddon Cave stated that the hearing will be held in public while keeping in mind evidence that would be a national security concern.


ICJ: Four Nations Jointly Sue Iran Over Civil Aviation Incident  

On 5 July 2023, the Kingdom of Sweden, Canada, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom jointly filed a lawsuit against the Islamic Republic of Iran at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The lawsuit is based on a dispute under the Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Civil Aviation (the “Montreal Convention”). The four countries claim that Iran violated its obligations under the Montreal Convention when it shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752 on 8 January 2020, killing all 176 passengers and crew on board. The applicants argue that Iran failed to prevent the offence and conducted an inadequate investigation. The applicants and Iran are all parties to the Montreal Convention and seek the court’s jurisdiction based on relevant articles.  


USA: Man Convicted of Raping 9-Year-Old, Sentenced to Life Imprisonment  

On 5 July 2023, Gerson Fuentes, 28, was sentenced to life in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of rape in Columbus, Ohio. Fuentes impregnated a 9-year-old girl, who had to travel out of state for an abortion. Even though he was sentenced to life in prison, under a plea deal, he may be eligible for probation after serving 25 to 30 years. The case has sparked controversy amidst the ongoing abortion debate in the country, particularly following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v Wade, which previously protected abortion rights. The girl, who turned 10 before the abortion, confirmed the assault, and DNA testing confirmed Fuentes as the father. It was also revealed that there was no evidence of Fuentes being authorized to be in the country. If granted parole, Fuentes will likely face deportation as he is from Guatemala.  


Bosnia: Court Acquitted Two Individuals of War Crimes Charges During Bosnian War

On 6 July 2023, the Bosnian state court in Sarajevo acquitted two individuals, Spomenko Novovic and Borislav Pjano, of multiple charges related to the war crimes committed during the Bosnian war in 1992. The charges included murder, inhumane treatment, illegal detention, robbery, and involvement in the persecution of Bosniak civilians in the villages of Dragocava, Sube, and Potpece near Foca. The presiding judge, Mediha Pasic, stated that the court did not find sufficient evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to establish the guilt of the accused in committing the alleged crimes. Novovic was specifically accused of killing a group of civilians and setting their house on fire, while Pjano was charged with participating in the capture and unlawful detention of 17 people, resulting in the death of six captives. This verdict is a first-instance judgment and is subject to appeal.


Israel: Officer Acquitted in Fatal Shooting of Autistic Palestinian  

On 6 July 2023, a border police officer was acquitted by an Israeli court of charges of reckless manslaughter in the killing of Eyad al-Hallaq, a Palestinian man with autism, in East Jerusalem’s Old City. The court, which compared the case to the police killing of George Floyd in the United States, declared that the officer acted in self-defence and described the incident as a tragic mistake, emphasizing the split-second decision made in a dangerous situation. The court justified its decision by stating that taking risks is an inherent part of military activity. The officer, whose identity remains undisclosed, was deemed to have acted in “good faith” as he believed al-Hallaq was an attacker. Al-Hallaq’s family had previously criticised Israel’s investigation into the shooting. The incident took place on 30 May 2020, near Lion’s Gate in the Old City, while al-Hallaq was on his way to a special-needs institution he attended.  


Colombia:  Ten Former Commanders of Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia Charged with War Crimes

On 7 July 2023, Colombia’s Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) charged ten former mid-level commanders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group with war crimes. The commanders were accused of bearing chief responsibility for kidnappings and other serious crimes such as hostage-taking, homicide, cruel and inhumane treatment, slavery, sexual violence and torture. The kidnappings were allegedly used for financing operations, prisoner exchange, and exerting territorial control. The Court claims that the Joint Central Command (CCC); which included the ten mid-level commanders, “created a complex system of financing,” through their acts of war crimes. The JEP was established to address collective crimes and crimes against humanity committed during Colombia’s armed conflict, offering restorative sanctions for those who fully acknowledge their responsibility. Those who do not acknowledge their guilt and are found guilty face ordinary prison sentences ranging from 15 to 20 years. The JEP is expected to bring additional charges against other regional mid-level-command structures of the FARC.


USA: Mass Shooter Sentenced to 90 Consecutive Life Terms for Racist Attack  

On 7 July 2023, a court in the United States sentenced Patrick Crusius to 90 consecutive life terms in prison for a racist mass shooting that occurred in 2019. The attack took place at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, targeting Hispanic shoppers and resulting in the deaths of 23 people. Crusius, who had pleaded guilty in February to avoid a federal death sentence, now faces additional Texas state charges that carry the possibility of the death penalty. He remained silent and showed no reaction as the sentence was read. Prosecutors revealed that Crusius had driven over 700 miles from suburban Dallas to El Paso, carrying out the massacre with an AK-47 derivative and hollow-point ammunition. The attack was motivated by his belief in a conspiracy theory of a “Hispanic invasion” and “ethnic replacement.”  


Iran: Two Individuals Publicly Executed for Deadly Shrine Attack Claimed by ISIL

On 8 July 2023, Iran publicly executed two individuals who were found guilty of carrying out a deadly attack on the Shah Cheragh Shrine in the city of Shiraz. The attack, which occurred in October 2022, was claimed by the ISIL (ISIS) armed group. The executed men, Mohammed Ramez Rashidi and Naeem Hashem Qatali were hanged following confirmation of their sentences by the Supreme Court. The shrine, a significant religious site in Shia Islam, was targeted by a lone gunman armed with an automatic rifle. Thirteen people were killed, and 40 others were injured in the attack. The gunman, who was identified as being from Tajikistan, was killed by security forces. ISIL released a video accepting responsibility for the attack. The two individuals who were executed were found to have been in contact with ISIL members in Afghanistan, provided the gunman with the weapon, and facilitated his presence at the shrine. Three other individuals received prison sentences for their involvement in the attack. The assault on the shrine occurred amidst nationwide protests in Iran that began in September 2022 following the death of a young woman named Mahsa Amini in police custody. The attack took place 40 days after her death, during a gathering to commemorate her in northwestern Iran.



Ukraine: Russian Drone Kills Two, Zelenskiy Calls for Better Air Defences 

On 3 July 2023, a drone attack carried out by Russia in the Ukrainian city of Sumy resulted in the deaths of at least two people and injured 19 others. The attack, which involved four drones, caused damage to an official building and two residential buildings. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy responded to the incident by calling for a significant improvement in anti-aircraft defences. He acknowledged the need for more high-quality air defence systems to protect the entire territory and shoot down enemy targets. Zelenskiy emphasised Ukraine’s goal of becoming the foundation of a European air shield and stated that the country had already downed over 3 000 targets during the 16 months of the ongoing war. In a separate attack, Ukraine’s military claimed to have shot down 13 out of 17 Iranian-made Shahed drones launched by Russia. Russia has intensified its air strikes against Ukraine in recent weeks, prompting a counteroffensive by Ukraine to reclaim occupied territory.  


Palestine: Biggest Israeli Siege on Jenin Refugee Camp in Two Decades Kills 11 

On 3 July 2023, Israel began a two-day siege on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank killing at least 11 Palestinians and wounding dozens. Israeli forces launched an intense aerial and ground assault, using helicopter gunships and reconnaissance drones in coordination with 150 armoured military vehicles, including tanks and bulldozers, and 1 000 elite special forces. Israeli forces began to withdraw troops on 5 July 2023 but the siege was the biggest on Jenin refugee camp in two decades. The camp is home to 14 000 Palestinian refugees and has become a stronghold for cross-factional Palestinian fighters. Israel stated that the attack was targeting armed groups operating out of Jenin, however, residents of the camp said it was civilians, not fighters, who suffered from the Israeli assault.  Residents reported fighters assaulting them, storming their houses, blowing up their doors, and placing snipers on the rooftops of Palestinian homes on the periphery of the camp, which is in the centre of the city. A prior Israeli incursion occurred just two weeks earlier and resulted in the deaths of seven Palestinians. Israel reported the death of one Israeli soldier during the July 2023 assault while eight were wounded in a reactionary car ramming attack in Tel Aviv on 4 July 2023 where the Palestinian responsible was shot dead by an armed Israeli passer-by.  


Ukraine: Europe’s Largest Nuclear Power Plant Reconnected to Back Up Electricity Source 

On 3 July 2023, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) stated that the Zaporizhzhya Nuclear Power Plant (ZNPP) in Ukraine has reconnected to its only remaining back-up power line after a four-month interruption. However, the IAEA warned that the power situation at the site remains highly vulnerable. The ZNPP’s connection to the 330 kilovolt (kV) power line was restored on 1 July 2023 after being cut on March 1 2023 due to damage on the other side of the Dnipro River. Prior to Russia’s invasion in February 2022, the plant had four power lines, but it had been relying solely on a single main 750 kV line for essential functions. The newly energised 330 kV line will now serve as a backup. The plant has experienced seven instances of complete power loss since February 2022, necessitating the use of emergency diesel generators. The IAEA inspection team has not found any mines or explosives around the plant but will require further access to continue their assessments.  


Israel: Israel to Buy 25 F-35 Fighter Jets from the US in a USD 3 Billion Deal 

On 3 July 2023, AP Newsreported that on 2 July 2023, Israel’s Defence Ministry announced that the country will purchase 25 F-35 fighter aircraft from the United States, increasing its fleet of the advanced stealth jets by 50%. The deal, worth USD 3 billion, will finalise in the coming months and expand Israel’s F-35 fleet from 50 to 75 aircraft. Israel is currently the only country in the Middle East to operate the F-35. The agreement also aims to ensure ongoing cooperation between American companies and Israeli defence industries in aircraft parts production. The decision to expand Israel’s arsenal of F-35 jets comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran. Israel has previously used these jets to intercept Iranian drones. Israel has also threatened long-range strikes on Iranian nuclear targets and accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons, which Iran denies. Israel has conducted numerous airstrikes in Syria to counter Iranian entrenchment and disrupt the delivery of arms to Hezbollah, a Lebanese ally of Iran.  


Ukraine: Ukrainian Writer Killed in Russian Missile Strike on Eastern Ukraine

On 3 July 2023, Victoia Amelina, a young writer from Ukraine died from her injuries sustained during a Russian missile strike in Kramatorsk. The attack that killed 12 people occurred at the Ria Lounge on June 27 when Amelina was dining with a group of Colombian writers and journalists. Amelina was well-known for her novels, children’s books, poems, and essays. Additionally, Amelina was investigating Russian war crimes through a human rights organization named Truth Hounds. In connection with her investigation, Amelina was also writing a nonfiction book about war crimes experienced by Ukrainian women. The night before Amelina sustained her injuries she wrote about the sounds of explosions from her balcony. This news was a grave loss to Ukraine’s writing and journalism community, which has lost dozens since Russia invaded Ukraine.   


Afghanistan: Taliban Orders the Closure of Beauty Salons Within One Month 

On 4 July 2023, the Taliban ordered the closure of all beauty salons in Afghanistan. A spokesperson for the Ministry of the Prevention of Vice and Propagation of Virtue stated that the deadline “for the closing of beauty parlours for women is one month” and is based upon a verbal order dated 24 June 2023 by Hibatullah Akhundzada (“Akhundzada”), the leader of the Taliban and supreme leader of Afghanistan. The announcement does not give a reason for the ban and comes after the Taliban barred women from university education, public spaces, and most forms of employment, including at NGOs. The letter came days after Akhundzada claimed his government intends to take “necessary steps” for “the betterment of women as half of society in order to provide them with a comfortable and prosperous life according to the Islamic Shariah”. Despite promising a more moderate rule than they imposed before 2002, the regime has come under both international and domestic criticism. One woman spoke to the Associated Press and stated that the closure will heavily impact her as she is the primary earner in her family since her husband died in 2017 and around eight to 12 women visit her salon in Kabul every day. The United Nations said the situation of girls and women in Afghanistan now has erased the progress the country made over the previous decades.   


Sudan: Increased Gender-Based Violence Calls for Immediate Action and Investigation 

On 5 July 2023, agency chiefs from the Humanitarian coordination office (OCHA), the human rights office (OHCHR), the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), UN Sexual and reproductive health agency (UNFPA), UN Women and the World Health Organization (WHO), voiced their shock and condemnation over increased sexual and gender-based violence (GBV) in Sudan and further made a call for putting an immediate end to violence including sexual violence as a tactic of war to terrorise people in Sudan. They also demanded a prompt, impartial and independent investigation into the allegation of violation and abuses of human rights along with holding perpetrators accountable. They urged that all parties should respect their human rights obligation and protect civilians, including women and girls. UN agency chiefs further stressed the need for increasing the prevention and response services for GBV in Sudan as well as neighbouring countries.  


Myanmar: As “Senseless Violence” in the Region Continues, Human Rights Chief Calls for its Immediate End  

On 6 July 2023, Volker Türk, UN rights chief told the Human Rights Council that there have been continuous recorded violations by Myanmar’s regime against civilians which include mass killings, extra-judicial execution and beheadings. He highlighted that these atrocities have continued to be meted out in Rakhine state where the Rohingya minority have been denied citizenship. He called for an end to the impunity by the military regime in the region and urged that a referral of the situation in Myanmar be made to the International Criminal Court. He further said that the country was continuing a “deadly freefall into even deeper violence and heartbreak.” He highlighted that the economy was deteriorating, with the generals exploiting natural resources at “dangerous rates”. He also highlighted that according to credible sources, 3747 people have been killed by the military regime with 24 000 having been arrested since its coming to power. He added that a third of the population was in need and obstruction by the military regime has constituted a deliberate and targeted denial of fundamental human rights. He reiterated his call to put an immediate end to the violence in the region and called for the release of over 19 000 political prisoners.  


Haiti: UN Secretary-General Urges Action on Haiti’s Security Situation and Humanitarian Crisis 

On 6 July 2023, Antonio Guterres, UN Secretary-General while speaking at UN Headquarters after his visit to Haiti highlighted that the people of the region were “trapped in a living nightmare” as the capital of Port-au-Prince has been surrounded by armed gangs. He also highlighted that the predatory gangs in the region were weaponising kidnapping and sexual violence to terrorise communities. He urged the international community to take immediate action in three crucial areas i.e.: political solutions, security situation and humanitarian needs. He urged that “sustainable security” could not be achieved without a political solution which would restore democratic institutions and without an improvement in the security situation, a political solution was unachievable. He also highlighted addressing the humanitarian needs of people in the region. The humanitarian plan of $720 million currently remains underfunded, with only 23 per cent of it having been funded until now. He appealed to the UN Security Council to allow deployment of “a robust security force” by Member States and assist the Haitian National Police, as had been requested by the Haitian government back in October 2022. 


Syria: UN Humanitarian Chief Calls for Continued Humanitarian Support to Syrians 

On 7 July 2023, Martin Griffiths, UN Humanitarian Coordinator highlighted that two separate lifesaving initiatives in Syria were set to expire in the coming days and there is a need to continue providing aid to the northwest region of Syria in order to allow Ukrainian and Russian grain exports to reach local markets amid the ongoing war. The northwest region of Syria is the last stronghold in the region, and aid has been delivered there from Türkiye through a cross-border mechanism which was authorised by the UN Security Council in 2014. He highlighted that the negotiations on the extension of the resolution were at a critical juncture as it would expire in the next three days. He further underscored that there was also a need to ensure that increased humanitarian support was being provided to people in the region as 90 per cent of the population is living below the poverty line. He also added that the humanitarian aid plan of $ 5.4 billion for the region has only been 12 per cent funded as of now, and the ration cuts by the World Food Programme could further reduce aid.   


Honduras: OHCHR Spokesperson Expresses Concern Over Honduras’ Extended State of Emergency and Human Rights Violations 

On 7 July 2023, Marta Hurtado, Spokesperson for the UN human rights office (OHCHR) while briefing journalists in Geneva expressed her concern over the extension of the national state of emergency in Honduras. She highlighted that the Government had issued a 45-day extension on 4 July 2023. She urged the Honduras authorities to reinforce “the internal and external oversight of military operations” in the region after the national state of emergency was extended. She highlighted that the state of emergency that has been imposed allows “military police to support the national police in carrying out public security tasks”; which further impinges upon the right of personal liberty and freedom and allows the security forces to conduct arrests and searches without warrants. She also voiced her concerns over the human rights violations being meted out to prison inmates and their ill-treatment by military police. She called upon the authorities to put an end to the human rights violation and violence against inmates, while also urging for conducting a prompt investigation into allegations of unnecessary and disproportionate use of force. She also urged that all efforts for addressing challenges relating to prisons be based upon international human rights law standards and the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners.   


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